When should publishing be public; when should publishing be password protected?

Negotiate best practices for digital publication with your students throughout the course by discussing what is gained and what is lost by limiting web content to a community of password holders. That is to say that the full benefits that come from composing in digital modes and for the Internet at large must be weighed against the need for student safety. Password protection may limit creativity, audiences, and the potential for students to make modest scholarly contributions. Best practices for privacy and password protection include remaining ever mindful of ways corporate data mining and government surveillance may compromise the open structure of the Internet for which the Domain project advocates.

Through web design platforms such as Weebly and WordPress faculty and students can negotiate privacy settings that balance safety and creativity. Though students may publish work to their sites at any stage of the writing process, tools such as Wordpress and Weebly provide privacy options that present students with several publishing choices.

  • Privacy settings enable students to control the community to whom they are publishing their projects.
  • WordPress allows users to control who can read the site and whether or not engines can search it. Users also have the option of creating a private blog to which only invited visitors are allowed access with a password.
  • As part of their “Pro” plans, Weebly allows users to password protect any part of their sites.

While student authored and administered sites allow published content to fully participate in digital networks, these sites do not offer the same level of security as course management software that is separated off from the rest of the web via secure firewalls. Consult the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act at the Emory University Office of the Registrar to negotiate best practices for archiving student educational records. Even when password protected, faculty should consider storing sensitive student information offline. That said, students should be given the freedom to choose how to password protect or freely publish their information.

The following resources provide extensive information on issues related to digital consumer advocacy, user rights to privacy, and Internet legislation/regulation. The sites may provoke and sustain classroom discussions of digital privacy and user rights: ACLU (Internet Privacy), Digital Due Process Coalition, Electronic Privacy Information Center, FreePress, OpenNet Initiative, Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

McKee, Heidi A. “Policy Matters Now and in the Future: Net Neutrality, Corporate Data Mining, and Government Surveillance.” Computers and Composition 28.4 (2011): 276-291.

McKee argues ensuring that all Internet communication moves at the same speed is vital, not only to the health of the Web, but also to digital composition. If large corporate entities can pay for faster transmission of content, then user generated content and small Web presence will diminish. She further argues that privacy laws are at best outdated and at worst geared toward protecting the rights of corporate structures over individual users. Since data collection can string together user activity across websites, privacy policies at specific sites may matter less than the larger aggregate of information about each user available to advertisers. Specific to the topic of password protection and “personally-identifying information,” McKee argues national policy shifts and can impede extensive corporate data tracking and warrantless government surveillance (282). In the face of what she sees as dwindling user and Internet freedom, McKee advocates instructors of digital composition make privacy issues part of course content through discussion of legal issues, privacy settings, Open Source Options, and interrogate rhetoric and assumptions about Internet privacy issues

Reyman, Jessica. “User Data on the Social Web: Authorship, Agency, and Appropriation.” College English 75.5 (2013): 513-533.

Reyman argues users of social media need to remain mindful of the series of "trade-offs" in which they engage: users give up control of content in exchange for network connections that sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide (514). She explains that while most data mining is conducted with corporate interests in mind, some aggregation platforms provide useful services responsibly. For Reyman, "User data... is not merely a technology by-product to be bought and sold; rather, it forms a dynamic, discursive narrative about the paths we have taken as users, the technologies we have used, how we have composed in such spaces, and with whom we have participated" (516). Helping students reflect on user data as collaboratively produced "narrative paths" through networked connects will help ameliorate privacy concerns. Furthermore, certain open source agreements help make student publications available for to audiences who are then free to remix and revise those public domain texts, so long as the iterations remain publically available.

See also, The Rhetoric of Intellectual Property: Copyright Law and the Regulation of Digital Culture

You Can't Spell FERPA Without FEAR

Though initially enacted to protect student rights, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the authors argue FERPA may actually limit student agency and online creativity. Instead of greater institutional restrictions authorized on behalf of the supposed need for student safety, projects such as Domain allow students to control and choose how to use their personal information and digital creations. When students control their online presence on sites they are more, not less FERPA compliant: “But thanks to a tweet by Mike Caulfield almost two years ago, I finally had a way to think UMW Blogs' relationship to FERPA differently. Mike basically noted that by giving students their own spaces online wherein they control their online identities, decide what they will share and won't, and take control over the disclosure of their own data we are more FERPA compliant than any other system on campus. In fact, that’s exactly right, UMW Blogs is focused on giving students control over their own learning process, reflections, and take back ownership of their data. What could be more FERPA compliant?" (par 6).